If you have been around triathlon for any length of time you have probably heard about injuries and fatalities in our sport. You have heard news of triathletes being struck by vehicles during their training rides. You also have likely heard about fatalities happening during races, most happening in the swim leg. In 2019, USA Triathlon (USAT) former Board Chair Barry Siff and former CEO Rocky Harris chartered a task force to evaluate the causes of injury and death in triathlon and make recommendations for addressing those causes.
Under the chairmanship of Boulder triathlete and USAT board member Mike Wien, the USAT task force quickly grew to include nine national governing bodies from every continent (except Antarctica), IRONMAN and World Triathlon, in addition to three medical doctors. World Triathlon then became the lead body on the task force.
Wien says, “As a member of the board of directors for USA Triathlon, I became aware of the increasing number of deaths in triathlon as board members receive an email notification of any fatalities soon after the event. On a personal level, I also noticed that a disproportion of these deaths were among older men in the swim. While the number of fatalities among the total number of participants is very low, I was honored to accept the challenge to make sure we were doing everything possible to reduce deaths in our sport.”
The global task force’s mission:
- Save one life (for starters)
- Reduce fatalities and serious injuries
- Focus on helping national federations and race directors host races during the current health crisis (COVID-19)
The task force initially collected and analyzed data to identify and eliminate common causes of problems, and outlined best practices for minimizing risks. It now has packaged its findings into a couple of one-hour webinars. The first webinar, targeting swim safety, lays out evaluation methods, and overall findings; it was aimed principally at race directors, coaches, and national governing bodies. The second webinar, How Athletes Can Minimize Risk in a Triathlon, released in December 2022, is targeted squarely at athletes and what they can do to enhance their safety.
“One of the task force’s most significant findings is the realization that safety in triathlon is a shared responsibility,” says Wien. “Race directors have the responsibility to make sure the course design, officials, volunteers, contingency plans, and rules all support a safe event. The athletes, their coaches, and triathlon clubs also have the responsibility to make sure everyone on the starting line is physically prepared, has the proper equipment, and mentally knows how to handle the unexpected.”
Both webinars are worth watching. Key points:
- A vast majority of fatalities (68%) happen during the swim leg, caused by cardiac arrest.
- Most fatalities are suffered by males (89%), especially in older age groups and those with undiagnosed or undisclosed heart conditions.
What triathletes can do:
- Train properly and specifically for the races you will participate in.
- Accumulate sufficient open water swim practice, especially in cold water if your race will have cold water.
- Be extra careful while training on your bike.
- If you have a heart condition or other risk factor, work carefully with your doctor on your health and safety.
Congratulations and thanks to World Triathlon, USA Triathlon, task force chair Mike Wien, and all the volunteers striving to ensure the health and safety of triathletes around the world. Check out the World Triathlon education and knowledge hub to find more information from the Global Triathlon Safety Task Force.